Priest who used to be KKK member apologizes to victims 40 years later

In this Aug. 23, 2017, file photo, Barbara Butler, accompanied by her husband Phillip, speaks during a news conference at their attorney's office in Washington. Four decades after a Catholic priest who was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on the couple's lawn, he finally wrote them an apology. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)In this Aug. 23, 2017, file photo, Barbara Butler, accompanied by her husband Phillip, speaks during a news conference at their attorney's office in Washington. Four decades after a Catholic priest who was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on the couple's lawn, he finally wrote them an apology. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — A former Ku Klux Klan member who burned a cross on a black couple's lawn 40 years ago, before becoming a Roman Catholic priest, has finally written his victims an apology.

The Rev. William Aitcheson told Philip and Barbara Butler he was "blinded by hate and ignorance" when he targeted them in 1977 at their home in College Park, Maryland.

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The Washington Post reports that in a letter dated Sept. 8, Aitcheson wrote he rejected those beliefs before he joined the priesthood, but was too ashamed to face the Butlers.

"I believe now that all people can live together in peace regardless of race," he wrote in the letter.

"I also know that the symbol of the most enduring love the world has ever known must never be used as a weapon of terror. Its use against you was a despicable act. I seriously regret the suffering it caused you."

"I believe now that all people can live together in peace regardless of race."

The Butlers said they are not sure what Aitcheson could do to earn their forgiveness.

"This is going to take some time," Barbara Butler said after a news conference Friday.

"For you to come into my life, 40 years, and say I'm sorry. I will pray on it. That's the only thing I can do."

Aitcheson was sentenced in 1977 to 90 days in jail. He was ordained in 1988.

The Butlers and their attorney also spoke about the recent payment to the Butlers of $23,000 from an overdue judgment in a lawsuit, along with $9,600 in attorney fees.

In a statement, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington said Aitcheson used his private funds and a personal loan to make the payment.

Aitcheson wrote in a recent essay that the violence at the deadly white nationalist really in Charlottesville in August made him think about his actions with the Ku Klux Klan.

Aitcheson was a priest at St. Leo the Great church in Fairfax City for four years before recently stepping down.

"As this matter involving the Butler family and Fr. Aitcheson has only been resolved recently, plans for his future priestly ministry are still being discerned," the diocese said in a statement Friday.

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